What is exactly is a fake person? Is it someone who acts one way towards certain people, but a different way towards another group? That seems more like a people pleaser to me.
Is it someone who tans to extremes, wears pounds of make up, and acts like they run things when everybody says that they secretly hate said person? That seems more like an ignorant person who loves their own self.
Is it someone who copies the opinions of others, but changes how they feel in the blink of an eye? That seems more like a conformist to me. Someone who says they’re “individual” where individual actually exactly what everyone else is like, or what people expect this person to be.
So what is a fake person? And why can’t people just be themselves?
FEUDALISM: You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.
PURE SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. You have to take care of all of the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.
BUREAUCRATIC SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and put them in a barn with everyone else’s cows. They are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. You have to take care of the chickens the government took from the chicken farmers. The government gives you as much milk and eggs as the regulations say you need.
FASCISM: You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them and sells you the milk.
PURE COMMUNISM: You have two cows. Your neighbors help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.
RUSSIAN COMMUNISM: You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.
CAMBODIAN COMMUNISM: You have two cows. The government takes both of them and shoots you.
DICTATORSHIP: You have two cows. The government takes both and drafts you.
PURE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors decide who gets the milk.
REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbors pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.
BUREAUCRACY: You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. Then it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.
PURE ANARCHY: You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbors try to take the cows and kill you.
LIBERTARIAN/ANARCHO-CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.
SURREALISM: You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.
Everything seems to be regressing, or just plain getting dumbed down. Hair dryers need warning labels that say, “Do not use while sleeping.” Driving Instruction Manuals need to include warnings that say “Trains have the right of way.” Text speak. Need I say more?
There are over 6 billion people in existence on earth. 6 BILLION. That’s a 6 with 9 zeros behind it. No doubt someone is making an inappropriate joke about this fact as they read this. It is truly astounding to think about that, with that many people in the world, we are still stuck where we are. We have diseases that kill ridiculous numbers of people every day, we pollute our environment in horrible ways, we argue things to death over political correctness, we are intolerant of, well, a lot. There are still third world countries. How can that not be motivation enough for people to make a change in the world? I don’t understand.
Now, there are those who will say that it takes a lot to make that kind of impact. I, personally, believe that it takes very little to start something that could change…everything. One lighting strike could destroy the home of a man that goes on to construct building that are indestructible. One sneeze could inspire a girl to become the doctor that cures AIDS, or Cancer. A simple shooting star may give a group of people the hope they need to create a way for us to venture forth into space to explore…everything.
Why do these things not exist? Because we don’t want them to. Specifically, every person wants them to not happen so that they can reserve the right to complain about their non-existence. The average person thinks a countless amount of times throughout the day. Our minds never actually stop working. With 6 billion people in the world, there are more ideas floating around in one second than there are grains of sand in every beach in the world. More than the mind, at least mine, can wrap itself around.
But now this is turning into a rant, so i should probably stop here. I believe I made at least one good point in my complaining though.
Nathan Radke claims that Charlie Brown is an existentialist.
Our anti-hero sits, despondent. He is alone, both physically and emotionally. He is alienated from his peers. He is fearfully awaiting a punishment for his actions. In desperation, he looks to God for comfort and hope. Instead, his angst overwhelms him, and manifests itself as physical pain. There is no comfort to be found.
Poor Charlie Brown. He waits outside of the principal’s office, waiting to hear what will become to him. He offers up a little prayer, but all he gets is a stomach ache.
When we are exposed to something every day we can eventually lose sight of its brilliance. Newspaper readers have been exposed to Charles Schulz’s comic strip ‘Peanuts’ for over half a century. Even now, a few years after Schulz died, many newspapers continue to carry reruns of his strips, and bookstores offer Peanuts collections. His characters are featured in countless advertisements, and every December networks dutifully show the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Is there any philosophical insight that can be gleamed from such a mainstream and common source?
There has been much discussion concerning Peanuts as a voice of conservative Christianity, including several books such as the 1965 work The Gospel According to Peanuts. This is not without reason; even a cursory glance at a Peanuts anthology will reveal enough scripture references to fuel a month’s worth of Sunday school classes. However, to suggest that Schulz’s philosophical insights didn’t make it past the church door would be a mistake. While Schulz had a great interest in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ, he was also highly suspicious of dogmatic pious beliefs. In a 1981 interview, he refused to describe himself as religious, arguing that “I don’t know what religious means”. Charlie Brown was no comic strip missionary, blandly spreading the word of organized religion. Upon reflection, the trials and tribulations of the little round-headed kid provide deep and moving illustrations of existentialism.
This mixture of Biblical teaching and existential thought is not uncommon. The Danish Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was one of the first existentialists, and his religious beliefs impelled his philosophy, rather than limiting it. Kierkegaard was forced to confront his deeply held belief in the existence of God with the tremendous empty silence that returns from the prayers of humans, and the results were his vital and compelling theories of faith and freedom.
It should also be noted that while Schulz did not consider himself religious, neither did he refer to himself as an existentialist. In fact, he was unfamiliar with the term until the mid 1950s, when he stumbled across a few newspaper articles about Jean-Paul Sartre. He was certainly not formally schooled in philosophical works. And yet, his simple line drawings provide illumination into the questions and problems raised by existentialism.
In order to identify examples of Schulz’s philosophy, a bumper-sticker version of existentialism should prove helpful. In his seminal 1946 work L’Existentialisme est un Humanisme, Sartre outlines some of the core aspects of his theories. A key aspect is the idea of abandonment. Kierkegaard felt that there was an unbridgeable gap between God and Man. Sartre goes even further, and argues that even if there is an unknowable and unreachable God, it wouldn’t make any difference to the human condition. Ultimately, we exist in an abandoned and free state. We are responsible for our actions, and since Sartre argues that there is no God to conceive of a human nature, we are responsible for our own creation.
How does this apply to Peanuts? Like the existential human in a world of silent or absent deities, Schulz’s characters exist in a world of silent or absent adult authority. In fact, the way the strip is drawn (with the child characters taking up most of each frame) actually prevents the presence of any adults. Schulz argued that, were adults added to the strip, the narratives would become untenable. While references are sometimes made to full-grown humans (normally school teachers) these characters are always out of frame, and silent. The children of Peanuts are left to their own devices, to try and understand the world they have found themselves thrust into. They have to turn to each other for support – hence, Lucy’s blossoming psychiatric booth (at five cents a session, a very good deal).
An ideal example of abandonment is the relationship between Linus and The Great Pumpkin. Every Halloween, Linus faithfully waits by a pumpkin patch, in the hopes that he will be blessed with the holy experience of a visitation by The Great Pumpkin. Of course, The Great Pumpkin never shows up, and He never answers Linus’ letters. Despite this, Linus remains steadfast, even going door to door to spread the word of his absent deity. Does The Great Pumpkin exist? We can never know. But from an existential point of view, it doesn’t matter if he exists or not. The important thing is that Linus is abandoned and alone in his pumpkin patch.
Sartre did not deny the existence of God triumphantly. Instead, he considered it “… extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven.”. Without God, everything we do as humans is absurd, and without meaning. Certainly, spending all night in a pumpkin patch would qualify as embarrassing as well. In the absence of any parental edicts, the characters in Peanuts have had to become very philosophically minded in order to establish for themselves what is right and wrong. When Linus gets a sliver in his finger, a conflict erupts between Lucy’s theological determinism (he is being punished for something he did wrong) and Charlie Brown’s philosophical uncertainty (when the sliver falls out, Lucy’s position crumbles). At Christmas time, Linus dictates a letter to Santa, questioning the validity of Santa’s ethical judgments regarding the goodness or badness of the individual child. “What is good? What is bad?” asks Linus. Good questions.
Another key aspect comes from this monstrous freedom that abandonment allows, and this aspect is despair. In a nutshell, we are created by our actions. We are responsible for our actions. Therefore, we are responsible for our creation. What we are is the sum total of what we have done, nothing more and nothing less. But why should this cause despair? To answer this, Sartre examines the characteristics of cowardice and bravery. When Sartre describes the position that opposes his own, we can see how it may be comforting to not be responsible for one’s creation:
If you are born cowards, you can be quite content, you can do nothing about it and you will be cowards all your life whatever you do; and if you are born heroes you can again be quite content; you will be heroes all your life, eating and drinking heroically. Whereas the existentialist says that the coward makes himself cowardly, the hero makes himself heroic; and that there is always the possibility for the coward to give up cowardice and for the hero to stop being a hero.
(Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism 1957)
It is this very possibility that causes despair. Why does Charlie Brown tear himself into knots over the little red-haired girl? The very possibility that he could go over and talk to her is far more distressing than its impossibility would be; he must take ownership of his failure. When she is the victim of a bully in the school yard, Charlie Brown’s despair threatens to leap right off the comic page. He isn’t suffering because he can’t help her, but because he could help her, but won’t: “Why can’t I rush over there and save her? Because I’d get slaughtered, that’s why…” When Linus helps her out instead, thereby illustrating his freedom of action, Charlie Brown only becomes more melancholic.
In order to combat despair, Charlie Brown succumbs to bad faith, which is to say, he denies his freedom: “I wonder what would happen if I went over and tried to talk to her! Everybody would probably laugh … she’d probably be insulted too …” It is only by falsely denying his freedom that Charlie Brown can overcome his despair. But by hiding behind bad faith, he does himself no favours. Another lunch hour is spent alone on a bench with a peanut butter sandwich.
Existence is problematic and disturbing. In one weekend strip, Schulz succinctly describes the horror of discovering one’s own existence in the world:
Linus: I’m aware of my tongue … It’s an awful feeling! Every now and then I become aware that I have a tongue inside my mouth, and then it starts to feel lumped up … I can’t help it … I can’t put it out of my mind. … I keep thinking about where my tongue would be if I weren’t thinking about it, and then I can feel it sort of pressing against my teeth …
Sartre devoted an entire book to this experience – his 1938 novel Nausea in which his character Roquentin is alarmed to discover his own actuality. But Linus sums the point up very well in a few frames.
Existentialism has been accused of being defeatist and depressing (and Sartre didn’t help his cause with terms like ‘abandonment’, ‘despair’, and ‘nausea’). But Peanuts also demonstrates the optimism of the philosophy. Why does Charlie Brown continue to go out to the pitcher’s mound, despite his 50 year losing streak? Why try to kick the football, when Lucy has always pulled it away at the last second? Because there is an infinite gap between the past and the present. Regardless of what has come before, there is always the possibility of change. Monstrous freedom is a double edged sword. We exist, and are responsible. This is both liberating and terrifying.
Schulz should be considered part of the generation of authors who saw active duty during World War II; he is in the company of writers such as Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, and of course Sartre himself. It is foolish to disregard literature simply because it appears in the funnies section of the daily paper. Schulz’s simple line drawings and blocky letters contain as much information about the human condition as entire shelves full of dry books.
While it is difficult to say what Sartre would have thought of Peanuts, we do know what Schulz thought of Sartre: “I read about him in the New York Times, where he said it was very difficult to be a human being, and the only way to fight against it is to lead an active life – that’s very true.” If any character has shown us the difficulties in existence, it is Charlie Brown
Now that I teach existential literature, I have a whole different interpretation of my childhood favorites, the Peanuts gang. My adult understanding of the cartoon is that Charles M. Schultz was a philosopher, and that he suffered from the same existential torment as has any hero from literature.
You know all the old Charlie Brown cartoons where Lucy tries to get C.B. to kick the football? He goes through agony trying to decide if Lucy is sincere this time—if he can trust her to leave the ball there so that he can experience one glorious kick.
Lucy always wants Charlie Brown to try, but she never allows him satisfaction. She pulls the ball away and Charlie Brown falls flat on his back—time after time.
I always found this scene odd for several reasons. For one, Lucy is never malicious. Her face is blank when she pulls away the football. The suggestion seems to be that Lucy, like the snake or the scorpion, is merely doing what is in her nature. She has to pull the ball away, because she needs to see people like Charlie Brown try and fail. She doesn’t even take smug satisfaction in Charlie Brown’s fall; she speaks to him calmly and walks away. For Lucy, the meaning of the universe is verified every time Charlie Brown makes his sad attempt.
For another, Charlie Brown knows what Lucy is. It isn’t a matter of wondering whether or not he can trust her—he knows he cannot. Therefore, there must be something else compelling Charlie Brown to agonize over the “to kick or not to kick” decision. He is Hamlet on the ball field, and Lucy is his existential agony. For Charlie Brown, it probably doesn’t matter either way. If he kicks it, he could fail. Since he is Charlie Brown, and has very little self-confidence, he most likely will fail. If she pulls it away, there is an excuse for his failure. Lucy is responsible.
Does this mean, then, that Charlie Brown NEEDS Lucy to pull the ball away, because it justifies his lack of prowess? And does Lucy, who dispenses “Psychiatric Help” for five cents a session, somehow understand this?
I often think that Lucy is too easily dismissed as a horrible person. Sure, she is a cartoon, but I find a great deal of existential truth in Charlie Brown.
The Existential Pumpkin Patch
Now on to Linus Van Pelt, one of my favorite cartoon characters; perhaps his greatest moments were those when he was anticipating the arrival of THE GREAT PUMPKIN. Not only is Linus one of the most appealing creations in all of fiction, but his simple belief in the Great Pumpkin, who would preside over the “most sincere” Pumpkin Patch on Halloween night, was the crux of the story. Linus represented the optimism that Charlie Brown could never quite muster, and there is beauty in all of Linus’s speeches that are meant to make Charlie Brown take heart.
These boys are the Didi and Gogo of cartoon world, the little philosophers who show us the distance between hope and despair. Schultz’s great success, I think, lay in the fact that he never condescended with his characters. The Peanuts gang spoke with wisdom, even world-weariness, and they were appealing to all ages.
When the Great Pumpkin never appears (except in the disillusioning form of Snoopy), Linus is dejected, but it is not long before he is planning for the next Halloween, and a more gloriously sincere pumpkin patch. Linus avoids the abyss because he clings to hope; Charlie Brown has been to the abyss, which is why he seeks pyschiatric help from Lucy, who doles out not Prozac, but common sense.
The heroism of the cartoon boys is similar to that of the men who wait for Godot; they may not always have the answers, but there is always hope, there is always tomorrow. Charlie Brown might actually get mail, and Linus might see something magical.
1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
4. Employ the vernacular.
5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
10. One should never generalize.
11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
14. Profanity sucks.
15. Be more or less specific.
16. Understatement is always best.
17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
18. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
23. Who needs rhetorical questions?
The witnessing of awareness can persist through waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The Witness is fully available in any state, including your own present state of awareness right now. So I’m going to talk you into this state, or try to, using what are known in Buddhism as “pointing out instructions.” I am not going to try to get you into a different state of consciousness, or an altered state of consciousness, or a non-ordinary state. I am going to simply point out something that is already occurring in your own present, ordinary, natural state.
So let’s start by just being aware of the world around us. Look out there at the sky, and just relax your mind; let your mind and the sky mingle. Notice the clouds floating by. Notice that this takes no effort on your part. Your present awareness, in which these clouds are floating, is very simple, very easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply notice that there is an effortless awareness of the clouds. The same is true of those trees, and those birds, and those rocks. You simply and effortlessly witness them.
Look now at the sensations in your own body. You can be aware of whatever bodily feelings are present-perhaps pressure where you are sitting, perhaps warmth in your tummy, maybe tightness in your neck. But even if these feelings are tight and tense, you can easily be aware of them. These feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them.
Look at the thoughts arising in your mind. You might notice various images, symbols, concepts, desires, hopes and fears, all spontaneously arising in your awareness. They arise, stay a bit, and pass. These thoughts and feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them.
So notice: you can see the clouds float by because you are not those clouds-you are the witness of those clouds. You can feel bodily feelings because you are not those feelings-you are the witness of those feelings. You can see thoughts float by because you are not those thoughts-you are the witness of those thoughts. Spontaneously and naturally, these things all arise, on their own, in your present, effortless awareness.
So who are you? You are not objects out there, you are not feelings, you are not thoughts-you are effortlessly aware of all those, so you are not those. Who or what are you?
Say it this way to yourself: I have feelings, but I am not those feelings. Who am I? I have thoughts, but I am not those thoughts. Who am I? I have desires, but I am not those desires. Who am I?
So you push back into the source of your own awareness. You push back into the Witness, and you rest in the Witness. I am not objects, not feelings, not desires, not thoughts.
But then people usually make a big mistake. They think that if they rest in the Witness, they are going to see something or feel something-something really neat and special. But you won’t see anything. If you see something, that is just another object-another feeling, another thought, another sensation, another image. But those are all objects; those are what you are not.
No, as you rest in the Witness-realizing, I am not objects, I am not feelings, I am not thoughts-all you will notice is a sense of freedom, a sense of liberation, a sense of release-release from the terrible constriction of identifying with these puny little finite objects, your little body and little mind and little ego, all of which are objects that can be seen, and thus are not the true Seer, the real Self, the pure Witness, which is what you really are.
So you won’t see anything in particular. Whatever is arising is fine. Clouds float by in the sky, feelings float by in the body, thoughts float by in the mind-and you can effortlessly witness all of them. They all spontaneously arise in your own present, easy, effortless awareness. And this witnessing awareness is not itself anything specific you can see. It is just a vast, background sense of freedom-or pure emptiness-and in that pure emptiness, which you are, the entire manifest world arises. You are that freedom, openness, emptiness-and not any itty bitty thing that arises in it.
Resting in that empty, free, easy, effortless witnessing, notice that the clouds are arising in the vast space of your awareness. The clouds are arising within you-so much so, you can taste the clouds, you are one with the clouds. It is as if they are on this side of your skin, they are so close. The sky and your awareness have become one, and all things in the sky are floating effortlessly through your own awareness. You can kiss the sun, swallow the mountain, they are that close. Zen says “Swallow the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp,” and that’s the easiest thing in the world, when inside and outside are no longer two, when subject and object are nondual, when the looker and looked at are One Taste.
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”—Viktor E. Frankl (via fuckyeahexistentialism)
“The only significant content of philosophizing, however, consists in the impulses, the inner constitution, the way of seeing and judging, the readiness to react by making choices, the immersion in historical presentness, which grow in us, recognize themselves, and feel confirmed on the way past all objective contents.”—Jaspers, Philosophie (via fuckyeahexistentialism)